life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

to the dump...

Warning: this is going to be a long post. Guess I’ve been saving up for the last couple of weeks. So grab a cup of coffee (or do the Dew) and let me know what you think when you’re done reading.

A few weeks back I made several trips to our local landfill. I parted with an old friend there and several of its cousins. It was an IBM clone. A Lazer XT. (Anybody remember how fast the XT machines were in their day?) MS-DOS. My first DOS machine. Not my first computer, but the one on which I wrote two novels, finished a screenplay, wrote umpteen other sermons, scripts, plays, magazine articles, treatments and picture book texts and the computer on which I honed my writing skills. I learned to think through my fingers on that computer. And I spent many nights falling asleep at that keyboard.

Mind you, I haven’t used that particular computer for probably 15 years. But it was somewhat hard to part with it after all that time anyway. In its day it was fast. Much faster than the Atari 130XE that started my journey in computer land. Faster even than my dad’s IBM PC, which was quite impressive at the time next to my Atari (and whose keyboard, by the way, would have made a great boat anchor). The Lazer was among probably five or six old machines we dumped that day. But I was the one to toss it on the pile. I waited as long in its life as I could to do it. But the time had come. I needed the space for other things in our “collection.”

It made me think.

This computer was long, long past its prime. Pre-windows of any kind. It required all kinds of special knowledge in order to operate effectively. No GUI (graphical user interface) on this puppy. No easy buttons that launched macros for every little thing. If you wanted to use this machine, you had to know the code. Else it was pretty useless. But for me, it was the lifeblood of writing.

Writing as an art has changed very little over the last fifteen years. But the latest and greatest computers have. They are faster, easier to use (my opinion), more intuitive than ever (even the non-Mac computers, grudgingly admitted by me, a Mac aficionado). You don’t have to use just text anymore to communicate. You can include pictures, movies, music. You can mix the media up and with a certain amount of skill come out with something akin to lower-priced Madison Avenue presentations. Anyone can publish these days. They can publish it to the world on Blogger or some other online sharing vehicle using today’s hardware and software and the ever-present World Wide Web.

Funny thing is that I can still get a command prompt line on both my Mac G4 Powerbook and on my Windows XP machine. I don’t do it often, usually only when I’m struggling with Internet connectivity and need to ping a site. But I can still get it. It’s there, underlying all of the new gadgets and gizmos. Today’s latest and greatest computers stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before.

Even the very first groundbreaking computers stand on the shoulders of the primitive abacus.

I’m saying all of this to make a point. Or two.

First point. This is for people who are leaving things behind. There is an appropriate time to dump a computer. That time was probably long before when I did it. I held onto that Lazer XT because it was what I “grew up” with. It was foundational. It was my introduction to computing. It was almost a funereal event when I tossed it on the junk pyre. That may seem overly dramatic, but more importantly there are beneficial ways and reasons to dump a computer and less than beneficial ways and reasons to dump a computer.

Seow Choon Leong is a college friend that I haven’t seen since Pepperdine days. He is a brilliant Biblical scholar who has gone on to Princeton Theological Seminary as a professor of Old Testament. I heard years back that his beginning Hebrew students give him standing ovations at the end of class. I bought his religion library from him before he left Malibu years ago. One book in particular he took great care with and spoke to me specifically only of that one. It was a beaten copy of a basic introduction to the Bible, very few pages, almost an outline. Not of much use to me. And Leong was well beyond it by this point. But, for all its simplicity and even mistakeness, he treated it with great respect. It was his first introduction to the Bible. It was foundational for him.

There is much talk in emergent church conversations about the failure of the structure of the modern church, about mistaken focus on organizational survival rather than kingdom outbreak, much of which I agree with. Most of it is critical, some very vehement. And the conversation on the side of those who are not convinced of the validity of the emergent leaders’ conversations is equally strident and growing more so all the time.

Might I suggest that the church has always been flawed, from its very beginnings, and will always be? A fair reading of the gospels and letters would certainly admit that, wouldn’t you say? But for all its warts, challenges, stumbles and faux pas, the early church changed the world as it changed people’s outlooks, attitudes and purposes. There was an underlying kingdom theme through it all. God has broken into, and continues to break into, the world through his son Jesus in his apprentices, whether modern or emergent.

So might I also suggest that if we choose to leave behind what was before, what even may have been toxic to us, that we recognize that for all its toxicity (as we see it at least), that good has come from and through it? Some people stubbornly hang onto and even use DOS computers. It may make no sense in the larger world around all of us, but it makes sense in their world. God bless ‘em. Truly. Leave them alone. In the words of St. Paul, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” If you are “dumping the computer” because it no longer makes sense to you, or for the sake of the kingdom or whatever your reason, is it too much to ask to be respectful of the people that are not ready to do so, whose worldview is still defined by modern structures and strictures? Whether you want to admit it or not, you stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you.

Second point, for those who are not ready to dump the computer. When I dumped my Lazer XT, I was not dumping what had been done on that machine by me. I was not dumping what I learned in the process of using it (except perhaps the codes, etc). I was not dumping my purposes in what I wrote on that machine. I was dumping an outmoded way of working. It was a tool that had become ineffective. It would no longer allow me to communicate with anyone else. Had I insisted on staying with it, I would only have become more ineffective and isolated. And perhaps I was also dumping one construction of the data so that I could build another. I don’t know. This metaphor is getting clumsier by the moment and way too mechanistic, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.

I believe very strongly that a transition must be made in our conception of church. Like clock speeds on microchips that double every how many months, the world has rapidly changed around us. The way people think and what they value is different today. The whole worldview of the western world has become post-modern, post-Christian and post pretty much everything. The structures of church that made sense when I was a child, for many no longer make sense. We perhaps became distracted at times during the modern era with the “computer codes”, from a modern viewpoint of course, rather than the timeless kingdom purpose that Jesus preached. Perhaps we were more concerned about how “clean” and precise the computer code was rather than building the relationships between God and man that Jesus worked for while he was on earth. That having been said, there was a lot of kingdom work accomplished during the last 500 years. A lot of Jesus has crept in through the church as it was experienced during the Modern Era. We should celebrate that. And at the same time, we should not be so wedded to modern “hardware” that we cannot see another way (or more likely multiple ways) that the living Jesus can work through his people to bring the kingdom into today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. Because, truth is that we have become ineffective. We have become isolated. We have become anachronistic.

So do we close all the institutional churches? Toss out modern expressions of somewhat spiritually-motivated social structure? No. But we need a rebirth of imagination. And I think we in the institutional church need to very carefully examine what hills are worth dying on. Perhaps, claiming to be followers of Jesus as we do, we ought not to die on any hill that he wouldn’t die on. You think? Chew on that one for a while.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a building. It is not even a group of people agreed for the most part on a list of doctrines, and working on their implementation to some extent, nor is it a group whose “correct” belief structure insures their eternal outcome. It is not even necessarily a social organism structured in certain forms, practicing certain rituals, etc.


In the words of St. Paul the church is the Body of the living Christ, and we are each interlinking pieces in the ongoing work of Jesus in the world. It is less about systematic theologies (a problem that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had honed to a fine art) and more about living presence, God and man, the ones who wrestle with God (and each other).

Personally, I think it’s time to take a few trips to the dump. But it is never time to look down on those who don’t. Nor is it time to arrogantly declare our old ways or new ways or modern ways or post-modern ways as The Way.

Perhaps if we shed some of the baggage – new pride or old structures – we can start becoming what he is trying to form us into: people who lived and acted and loved like him.

Grace and peace!



Blogger Tones said...


The advice to not become judgemental toward others who still run the machines they learned is good for a guy like me who has never really known a time when computers don't become out of date every six months. It's hard for me to understand an attachment to, what I perceive as, a computer (read theology) that is kept around just because it has been around for a long time.


11:24 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

You might better understand it if you faced this circumstance: What if Microsoft and the use of all Microsoft systems was outlawed tomorrow? Or if Microsoft said they weren't going to support Windows anymore and they weren't going to come out with any new versions or any subsequent operating system similar to windows? Everyone had to use Mac or Linux.

Needless to say, I would welcome the day! A computer operating system that finally works! (Sorry for the editorial comment!)

But for non-Mac and non-Linux people... how great do you think the complaints would be? How resistant would people be to switching over, even if the only other alternative was using a deficient OS?

We get used to ways of doing things. We are habit-forming creatures. We develop emotional attachments to the most unlikely things, processes and ways of thinking.

And I guess another challenge for people of your generation is to ask whether you can imagine any kind of stability? Any resolution of the fractal we are now living? Any future "computer" (read theology) that can make sense of our faith and of our world at the same time? Any "settling on an island" instead of hopping from rock to rock just before they sink below the waves?

Not everyone will agree with my assessment of where we are, of course.

This may be jumping the gun. But I would suggest that at some point in the future -- maybe not in my lifetime, since I'm so old already! -- we will reach the other side of this incredibly uncomfortable suture zone.

How will we know? I have no idea what it looks like, so how will I know? Don't know. Guess I'll know it when I see it. I know that's a stupid criteria, but....

In the meantime, we are on a journey. But I don't believe this journey is one without destination. (Not saying you were suggesting that. Just thinking on the keyboard here. Something to think through.)



8:29 AM  
Blogger Tones said...

I think that our culture will eventually get to the other side, but I'm not so sure that my generation will.

My father-in-law is a guy who moves every five years. For whatever reason, he doesn't have the desire to settle down. Maybe he's only comfortable in change. I think my generation is much like this. I wonder sometimes if we are the generation of Israelites wondering in the wilderness. Do you think that some of the Israelites who had wondered their whole life were uncomfortable with the prospect of being stuck in only one place for the rest of their life? Maybe we're the generation that bridges the gap between one way of living and another. Maybe in forty years or so a leader will emerge that will help the rest of us (or our kids and grandkids) settle in a place where we can all understand and love Linux. We'll see (or whoever's left will). Do you think that God gave this generation the ability to live in paradox for this reason?


9:15 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Hey Tones...

I think it's a chicken/egg thing. Your generation has grown up in the Suture Zone so to speak, or at least you are the first generation to realize it from day one. That then is normal for you. So, yes, I would say it will be difficult for those entering the "promised land" because they were so used to being "nomadic".

One additional note... It seems to me that there are hazards no matter where you are -- either wilderness or promised land.



12:27 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said... other comment, Tones. If you grow up wandering around, it might be a relief to settle somewhere. I wouldn't discount your generation in that regard. Forty years of wandering changes one's perspective I think.



12:52 PM  
Blogger Tones said...

I really do long for a time when my ministry/Christianity/life is simple and well-understood (by me at least). I feel that sometimes I spend all my time and energies trying to "figure it out" instead of loving God and loving people, so I hope someday we find the other side of the suture zone. Maybe it's just the grass seeming greener over there.


8:49 AM  
Blogger Tones said...

You know what, I don't agree with my last post. In fact, I vehemently oppose my last post. I don't want a religion that is either simple or easy to understand. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't want to serve a God so little that I can get my mind around Him. I don't want to practice a religion so little that I understand exactly what is happening in it all the time.

I was thinking last night, pipe in hand (sparticus tobacco), and I realize what I want in corperate church worship. Well, first I realized a couple of things that I didn't want. I didn't want to hear sermons or sing songs about God. There is a pretty large part of me that doesn't even want to hear sermons or sing songs to God. The exception to this (obviously) is to praise Him. Primarily, what I want is to hear from God. I want a place where God's Words are spoken to me, and I want to share the experience with others. I can commune with God on my own, but there is some kind of communal Holy Spirit dynamic that I can't get on my own.

As a side note, I realized why I think Love Song by Third Day is the most powerful song ever written; it is because it is a song from Jesus' point of view to me. It's what I long for. I've finally realized that the discontent in my heart for the way things are due the fact that I can't come to church expecting to hear God's voice. Sometimes it happens, but if I'm being honest, it's not that often.

Maybe I'm the last hiker up this hill, but this is a major thing for me. I feel relief that I've finally named the issue. Maybe everyone else out there is wondering what took me so long to get here. I think that I might have glimpsed what the other side of the suture zone looks like. Maybe it's a place where we can expect to hear God in community. Maybe it's just that simple mystery.


6:48 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Tones said:

I think that I might have glimpsed what the other side of the suture zone looks like. Maybe it's a place where we can expect to hear God in community.

That is a very powerful statement, Tones.

I think there is another thing we can say about the other side, with fair certainty. There will be a greater emphasis on love, love not made subordinate to a system of "proofs,"

Owen visited me in Hanford, Saturday. I had been planning to drive to Bakersfield to see him, but then my car became...petulant. Owen graciously drove my way instead. And we had a day of conversation and affection, joy in each other's presence - a very beautiful and joyful experience for me, despite my restless spirit and drifting, sometimes irreverent mind (see earlier posts).

I think of a story I once heard, an apocryphal tale of the apostle John in old age:

John came in to the fellowship each week and preached on love, every sermon beginning, "Brothers and sisters, love one another..." A vocal group within the congregation became very tired of the sameness of John's sermons. "Love one another," over and over and over, ad infinitum! They asked John one day to speak on something "new." "Of course," he conceded. He then stepped to the front and began, "Brothers and sisters, love one another..."

During the darkest days of my separation, I was wrestling with the meaning of my impending divorce, in the presence of my therapist, who had, by the way, been through something very similar. How could God allow this?!, I demanded to know. How could Carol do this?! God hates divorce, and Carol says she loves God... ???!!!! I complained, in anguish, that I couldn't "work out the theology of it." Softly, Al said, "There's no theology to it. Love her. Let her go..."

11:43 AM  
Blogger Tones said...


I sure hope your right. A place characterized by love is worth chasing after.


8:56 AM  

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